Wisconsin Department of Children and Families

Protecting Children, Strengthening Families, Building Communities


State budget information

The 2019-21 biennial budget presents an opportunity for the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and its various stakeholders to address critical needs we encounter serving Wisconsin’s children and families. The funding included in the Governor’s budget proposal will help the agency and its partners connect the dots in new and innovative ways, allowing us to provide services that will improve the lives of families. For organizational purposes, the proposals included group into four major subject areas that DCF oversees. Those being:

  • Addressing the child welfare crisis
  • Increasing access to high-quality child care and supporting family well-being
  • Advancing a system of youth justice that provides youth with the tools to thrive
  • Investing in families and communities to strengthen the economy

Use the accordions below to learn more. You can also access the entire DCF budget analysis via pdf file.

Addressing the child welfare crisis

The heroin, opioid, and methamphetamine epidemic directly impacts county child welfare agencies. Cases today are more complex and costly.  Over the past six years, out of home care caseloads increased by nearly 30%. These particular cases take longer to resolve and put stress on available resources. State-imposed levy limits, combined with stagnant state support, are pushing county services to the breaking point.

There is broad, bipartisan support to address this crisis and the budget capitalizes on that opportunity. Key policies include at least tripling prior increases to Children and Family Aids (CFAs) alongside increasing foster and kinship care rates. An equivalent increase in Tribal Family Services ensures Wisconsin’s tribal partners can improve service equitably. These crucial investments allow counties and tribes to be flexible in how they reduce caseloads and provide children and families with critical services.

Increasing access to high-quality child care and supporting family well-being

Lack of available and affordable high-quality child care is the second biggest workforce development challenge Wisconsin faces (WEDA 2017). Today, 38% of zip codes are considered child care deserts, meaning there are no licensed providers or less than one provider opening for every three children. There is no better example of how stark the picture is than Western Wisconsin, where over 50% of zip codes are classified as child care deserts. And outside the child care setting, current programs to support families with newborn children are proving successful and popular, but are limited in capacity and resources.

The budget proposes to more than double the state’s child care reimbursement rate, currently among the lowest in the nation. This investment will help open the doors of opportunity for families to receive care and for child care providers looking to keep their businesses open. The popular home visiting program, born out of the work of the Governor’s Early Childhood Advisory Committee (ECAC), is also expanded by the budget. Expanding home visiting allows for more families to receive newborn and family well-being learning. Finally, additional training dollars provided to help build emotional and social competence will help providers learn trauma-informed practices and set up our youngest learners for success.

Advancing a system of youth justice that provides youth with the tools to thrive

Local communities, legislators, and citizens across Wisconsin have a shared vision to implement a system of youth justice focused on prevention, diversion, accountability, and providing services to youth and their families. One that prepares youth by developing the skills they need to thrive and works across systems to achieve that goal.

Several provisions in the budget build upon the work DCF is conducting since receiving oversight of the community-based youth justice system and through the continued conversation around 2017 Act 185. Returning 17-year-olds to the youth system and allocating funding for programming is a necessary step in making good on our promise of establishing a system of youth justice. Wisconsin is currently one of five states that treat 17-year-olds as adults – this decision results in additional challenges to accessing educational services and programming youth receive. The budget also provides funding for reimbursement to counties for costs associated with creating secure residential care centers for children and youth (SRCCCYs). The budget also makes needed investments in services for runaway and homeless youth, youth mental health services, and funding driver’s licenses for foster care youth, strengthening essential prevention tools that help keep youth out of the justice system entirely.

Investing in families and communities to strengthen the economy

Policymakers know that investments in families results in healthy kids and a healthier economy. That effort has resulted in the creation and expansion of programs that actively engage non-custodial parents in work opportunities and re-establishing child support payments. It has also allowed DCF to maintain its priorities of keeping families intact and children safe at home.

The budget provides a much-needed increase in Wisconsin’s successful county-administered child support system and expands the transitional jobs program statewide. Combined with other initiatives like increasing the lifetime limit for Wisconsin Works (W-2) and providing additional W-2 funds for internet assistance, the budget proposals strengthen Wisconsin’s workforce and stabilizes struggling families.